« PreviousContinue »
abuse people of any anticipations they may have formed of a narrow and incomplete investigation. The inquiry has properly been restricted to facts, but the facts which it embraces include all that bears on the origin of the outbreak and the process of its suppression. And although we in part differ from the conclusions at which the Commissioners have arrived, we are bound to notice the patience with which they conducted the inquiry, the comprehensiveness by which it is characterised, and the fairness which distinguishes their verdict. They began to sit on the 25th of January, and continued their sittings almost without intermission till the 21st of March. They held their court generally at Spanish Town, but, during the prosecution of the inquiry, they visited Morant Bay, Bath, and Manchioneal, in order to test by personal experience the oral or documentary evidence which they had received of local occurrences. Nor were their labours easy. They had to examine people who had no notion either of the objects of the investigation or of the nature of evidence, or of time, or of distance ; many of whom spoke in such a travestie of English that it almost seemed a foreign and barbarous tongue ; many of whom, too, came for the purpose of claiming pecuniary compensation for losses which they had sustained, or of gratifying their own vindictiveness by informing against their personal enemies, or of supporting their own theory of the disturbances by evidence sometimes very imperfect, and sometimes wholly false. The witnesses amounted in all to 730, and the number of separate sittings to sixty. The questions and answers with the appendix fill a double-columned Blue Book of upwards of 1100 pages. This testifies to the persevering industry of the Commissioners, whose labours were performed in the hottest part of a tropical country, to the climate of which two of the three were quite unused.
The conclusions to which the investigation led them may best be given in their own words :
CONCLUSIONS. ''Upon the subjects proposed for our inquiry we have come to the following conclusions :
'1.—That the disturbances in St. Thomas-in-the-East had their immediate origin in a planned resistance to lawful authority.
'II.—That the causes leading to the determination to offer that resistance were manifold : (1.) That a principal object of the disturbers of order was the
obtaining of land free from the payment of rent. (2.) That an additional incentive to the violation of the law arose from the want of confidence generally felt by the labour
ing class in the tribunals before which most of the disputes
affecting their interests were carried for adjudication. (3.) That some, moreover, were animated by feelings of hostility
towards political and personal opponents, while not a few contemplated the attainment of their ends by the death or
expulsion of the white inhabitants of the Island. “III.—That though the original design for the overthrow of constituted authority was confined to a small portion of the parish of St. Thomas-in-the-East, yet that the disorder in fact spread with singular rapidity over an extensive tract of country, and that such was the state of excitement prevailing in other parts of the Island that had more than a momentary success been obtained by the insurgents, their ultimate overthrow would have been attended with a still more fearful loss of life and property.
*IV.–That praise is due to Governor Eyre for the skill, promptitude, and vigour which he manifested during the early stages of the insurrection; to the exercise of which qualities its speedy termination is in a great degree to be attributed.
·V.-That the Military and Naval operations appear to us to have been prompt and judicious.
*VI.—That by the continuance of martial law in its full force to the extreme limit of its statutory operation the people were deprived for a longer than the necessary period of the great constitutional privileges by which the security of life and property is provided for. *Lastly.-That the punishments inflicted were excessive.
(1.) That the punishment of death was unnecessarily frequent.
barbarous. (3.) That the burning of 1000 houses was wanton and cruel. All which we humbly submit to Your Majesty's gracious consideration.'
Thus we see that the Commissioners hold that the disturbance was seditious, if not treasonable, in its character; that, among the projects of its authors, were the appropriation of estates, and the expulsion of the white people from the colony, if not their extirpation; that its rapid subjugation on the scene of its first outbreak prevented its further extension, and a still greater sacrifice of life and property ; that its speedy termination was due to the vigour, promptitude and energy of Mr. Eyre, and to the effective action of the naval and military forces. They qualify this praise by condemning the duration of martial law, the frequency with which the punishment of death was inflicted, the recklessness with which flogging was resorted to, and the burning of 1000 houses. In a previous part of their Report they had acquitted Gordon of any complicity in the outbreak at Morant Bay, or of having been a party to a general conspiracy against the Govern
ment. On the whole, then, they attribute to Mr. Eyre the credit of having by his vigour and energy crushed a very formidable rebellion; while, not indeed directly, but by implication, they blame him for the prolonged duration of martial law, for the toleration of unnecessary executions, and for the arrest and sentence of Gordon.
It seems to be the opinion of some people in this country that a rebellion is a very trifling affair, which requires only a little vigour on the part of the authorities to be stamped out at once, when peace will be restored and all things revert to their original condition. Men who know only of risings and civil war by books V have been free in their condemnation of acts which, because they were not likely to be done in England, these critics hastily inferred ought not to be done in Jamaica. In their strictures they have given way to a feeling which is undoubtedly humane and right in itself, but which, unless controlled by reflexion, intelligence and knowledge, is apt to mislead. It did not occur to them that any rising of a people or a portion of a people against the constituted authorities necessarily implies, not a mere capricious impulse, but a settled and confirmed antipathy, which will rest satisfied with nothing short of an appeal to force. This is true where the governed and the governing parties are both of the same lineage and race; but it is far more strikingly true when the combatants represent distinct and antagonistic races, and when the theatre of the conflict is a country which the rebel thinks has been wrongfully taken from himself by his opponents. What do these critics believe would be the conditions of a Fenian rebellion in Ireland, or what is their impression of the past rebellions in that country? Do they imagine that the gall and bitterness which had fermented in the breasts of the rebels for years before they took up arms were modified by the success at Wexford, or subdued by the defeat at Vinegar Hill? Do they fancy that the civil war was carried on in a spirit of courteous forbearance on either side, and that the arms of the combatants were never stained with blood, except in the open battle-field ? Have they so read the history of these transactions as to suppose that there was no inhumanity--no ferocity-no brutal assassinations--no revolting murders-no atrocities to young and helpless women, worse far than any murders—committed by soldiers on defenceless Irish, or by overwhelming Irish upon outnumbered or defenceless soldiers and loyalists? A perusal of the history of 1798 will disabuse them of impressions so baseless, and teach them what might have been supposed to be a superfluous lesson, viz., that civil wars are neither made nor ended with rose-water--that, when the blood of two contending races is on fire, their mutual
animosity is proportioned to the closeness of their contiguity and the occasions of their collision. In the case of Jamaica, the feeling of race was intensified by the feeling of colour, by the traditions of different religions, or by different conceptions of the same religion, and by the recollections of slavery. The disparity of numbers, too, stamped a signal characteristic upon relations otherwise sufficiently unfriendly. In the colonies where men of dusky complexions are governed by white men, there is a defined limitation to the increase of the latter, while the former are indefinitely multiplying. This stimulates the hopes of the majority, while it excites the fears of the minority. The small garrison becomes an object of dislike, suspicion, and hatred to its outnumbering neighbours; while they, on their side, are a daily increasing terror to their nominal superiors. In this state of things any accident-as, for instance, a vestry squabble--suffices to bring about a collision. But when it is brought about, the fierceness of the aggression and the fierceness of the retaliation are in a direct ratio to the length of time during which the angry hatred has smouldered for want of opportunity to burst out. Then it is that acts are perpetrated which reveal the unextinguished savageness of the human heart, beneath the superficial gloss of a partial civilization. Then it is that unless repression comes sternly at once—the pent-up wrath and hate of years find vent in the wildest excesses of murder, rapine, and lust. Then it is that the black man becomes almost a demon
in the cruelty of attack, and the white man rivals his foe in the | cruelty of his resistance. Whoever is aware of the deeds that
have been done on former occasions, and knows their tendency to repeat themselves on every occurrence of insurrection, will naturally feel the utmost anxiety to see any insurrection effectually repressed, and, if he is in office, will exert himself vigorously in its repression.
We do not take upon ourselves to do that which the Commissioners have very properly abstained from doing, viz., to define with precision what was the exact measure of punishment
due to the magnitude of the outbreak, and adequate to the pre| vention of its recurrence. We do not know that it is competent ! for any person to say with minute accuracy how many men | ought to have been put to death. It appears too that Mr. Eyre
and the military authorities were justified in thinking that the sudden dispersion of the negro rioters, and their utter inability to make a stand before the troops, were not of themselves sufficient reasons for putting an end at once to all severe measures of repression, so long as the negroes did not submit. In our opinion, they were justified by a knowledge of the negro character. The negro is a creature of considerable shrewdness on subjects that fall within the scope of his daily ken and observation. He will learn the tastes and predilections of those upon whom his wellbeing is dependent, and he will study to gratify or disgust them, according to his whim. But he has very indistinct notions of all things with which he has not personal acquaintance; and his deductions from the unknown to the known are singularly childish. The evidence presented by this Report contains abundant instances of his unreasoning credulity and fatuous conceit. He could not believe that the Commissioners were not sent out for the express purpose of giving him compensation and punishing Mr. Eyre. In the same way he believed that, if he rose in insurrection, the soldiers would either not be sent against him, or, if sent, would side with him. He had believed also that the “back lands,” or waste appurtenances of the old estates, had been given by the Queen to the negroes, who were kept out of them by the grasping and unprincipled whites; that money had been sent out by the Queen, and kept back by the same whites; and that if he rose in rebellion he would get these back lands, and other lands, with the houses, wives, and daughters of their proprietors. Now, if the negro believed these things on no authority, save an idle word first, perhaps, jestingly spoken, it was quite likely that he would believe the rumour which would certainly bave been circulated, and which he would have an interest in believing,—that the soldiers had never met the insurgents, never taken, or never shot any. The far more intelligent people of India could not for a long time be brought to believe in the arrival of reinforcements from England, or the victories they had gained. That the negro's credulity or incredulity is the offspring of his bias and wishes, there is abundance of evidence in the
We take one sample. After Sir Henry Storks's arrival in the colony, he found it necessary to issue a proclamation forbidding the use of threatening language towards persons who were about to give their testimony before the Royal Commissioners. A clergyman read this to his country congregation in church, after the termination of the morning prayers. This created quite a disturbance; and as he was passing through the churchyard after service, one negro cried out that the 'parson was humbugging them, and that he did not believe either the parson or the Government proclamation. In the same way the duped people would have stuck to their belief that the Queen was on their side, unless they had seen the Queen's soldiers acting vigorously against them. Mr. Eyre's vigorous measures confined the seditious outbreak to the Eastern and South-Eastern portions of